I never saw the Wachowski’s Jupiter Ascending, but I heard it described as a beautiful mess. That is exactly how I would describe this movie as well.
Luc Besson is a filmmaker that I have liked for quite a while – even if some of his movies have been misfires. The Professional, La Femme Nikita, Lucy, The Messenger – all have some interesting action and amazing visuals. However, the Fifth Element is easily my favorite of his filmography. A trippy sci-fi epic with Bruce Willis and Milla Jovovich in Jean-Paul Gautier outfits as they race to save the world from Gary Oldman and a solid mass of evil.
Since I enjoyed that so much, I was looking forward to Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets – even though I was skeptical of the two leads. The story is taken from a French graphic novel, Valerian and Laureline, and was a passion project that Besson worked on bringing to the screen for many years.
The story begins on a beautiful planet where a race of pearl-like beings are living peacefully, harvesting pearls from the oceans of their world and using a little, adorable creature to multiply those pearls, which seem to power everything in their lives. Suddenly, multiple spaceships begin crashing down onto their planet from the atmosphere above. Investigating a fallen ship, the king and queen and a group of their people take shelter when a massive ship crashes into and destroys their planet, as their daughter, the princess, is trapped outside.
Meanwhile, across the universe, we are introduced to Major Valerian and his partner Sargeant Laureline as they are relaxing and off-duty. He proposes to her (this felt like a joke to be, but apparently he was serious? Hard to tell, they had zero chemistry), just as they head off to their latest mission. They head to a planet that has a huge inter-dimensional shopping market to intercept the sale of a ‘converter’ (which is one of those cute little animals we saw in the beginning). They make it out of the market and take the converter back to Alpha – the “City of a Thousand Planets”, which is made up of many different spaceships that eventually bonded together as more and more species learned of its existence. While there, Valerian and Laureline learn from their commander that there is a spot in the center of Alpha that seems to be radioactive, and they need to find out what is going on there.
From this point on, things get a little muddled. A meeting gets interrupted by some of the remaining Pearl species who take the commander, Laureline keeps the converter, Valerian chases the Pearls, Laureline has to put a jellyfish on her head to find Valerian, once she does – she gets captured by another species who wants to eat her brain so Valerian asks Ethan Hawke to borrow a shapeshifting Rhianna to get Laureline out, Rhianna gets killed off-screen, the two eventually learn that the spot in the center of the city is the Pearls and that they've been prepping a ship to leave and start a new life for which they need the converter to make more pearls to power their ship, but since the commander is the one who was responsible for destroying their world they also would like a little revenge. And Valerian continues to ask Laureline to marry him, almost constantly.
I will say honestly, the movie is beautiful. The sequence on the Pearl planet is astounding. The notion of the ‘City of a Thousand Planets’ is really interesting, but the story is so muddled and the acting so wooden that it was very easy to lose interest in what was happening. I wanted to love it, but felt like I couldn’t. The majority of the movie is effects and CGI, so there are just a few actors with sizeable live-action roles.
- Dane DeHaan was interesting in Chronicle. I haven’t liked him in anything I have seen him in since then. Here he is wooden, and honestly, not believable as an action lead – and a major in the military. Also, the constant asking of Laureline to marry him got really annoying and bordered on harassment.
- Cara Delevingne plays Laureline, and again, very wooden. She was actually less wooden than DeHaan, but still not entirely believable as a military operative. Yes, she's better in this than she was in Suicide Squad - but as bad as this is - it's better than that one.
- Clive Owen plays the commander in such a way that you are well aware he will be revealed as the villain behind everything.
- Rhianna plays Bubble for what seems to be no reason. She’s a shapeshifter who has a dance sequence, during which the switching to body doubles who did the actual dancing was painfully obvious. She seems to be in this movie just for the sake of putting Rhianna in this movie – she literally has one scene as her, and one scene where she ADRs for a digital version. Neither scene had any particular bearing to the plot, so the whole thing felt useless.
- Ethan Hawke has literally one scene where he introduces Valerian to Bubble.
- Herbie Hancock plays the minister. Yes, Herbie Hancock plays the minister. Why not just use Tiny Lister again?
Listen, it’s ambitious and it looks great. The problem is, you don’t feel anything while watching it. It all just seems like very attractive mess. Yes, you should probably see it, and to take the best advantage of the visuals, you should see it in the theater, but be prepared for everything other than the visuals to be disappointing.
5 out of 10. Gained points for Ethan Hawke trying to Ruby Rod the middle of this movie, but lost points for him not getting close.
Bonus – more Fifth Element fun from Cinema Sins.